5 mins read 23 Aug 2021

Australian Space Start-ups to be supported by Microsoft

Microsoft Australia steps into supporting Australian space start-ups with the launch of a new initiative that provides technology solutions and services to local growing enterprises, aiming to help achieve their objectives more efficiently.

Credit: Microsoft News.

Microsoft Australia is taking a step into the Australian space start-up scene, with the launch of a new initiative designed to benefit the rapidly growing Australian space sector, in particular emerging businesses.

The Microsoft for Space Start-ups Australia initiative, designed to support these emerging enterprises, will be focusing on providing Microsoft services, technology platforms, and opportunities to work with technical specialists from the multinational organisation through the business’s growth phase.

Benefits received include USD \$120,000 of free Azure cloud for two years, Github enterprise, Office 365 Business Premium, and Enterprise-grade Azure support to name a few. For Australian businesses to be eligible, they would need to be a Space focused start-up, less than seven years old, and be a privately held company.

“We are focussed on enabling and building an ecosystem of companies committed to taking on some of the toughest issues in the advancement of space technology and exploring uses of this technology for the betterment of humanity and continued exploration in space,” said Azure Space Lead, Microsoft Australia, Lynn McDonald.

“Microsoft is innovating in space, and we’re excited to work with start-ups creating new technologies and innovative capabilities. Microsoft expects agriculture, energy, mining, resources, telecommunications and the public sector to be among the early terrestrial adopters of space-enabled solutions.”

Microsoft is also developing space industry-focused tools that will enhance connections of space-based assets, such as satellites, through tools like Azure. Utilising digital technologies, like the Azure Orbital Emulator (an environment that conducts satellite constellation simulations at scale), the company hopes to help the space sector launch assets faster and with higher mission assurance.

Building Climate-Resiliant Cities from Space

Two Australian start-ups have already joined the technology company’s initiative, accessing and integrating the Azure platform into their products and services.

The first is the Office of Planetary Observations (OPO), which are leveraging Earth Observation satellite data to provide information to developers and town planners to help design climate-resilient, smarter and greener cities.

The new web tool from the OPO runs on Azure and allows citizens to query how green their suburbs are, receiving a plain language response that has incorporated space-sourced data.

“We are delighted to welcome OPO to our emerging ecosystem of companies creating new solutions and platforms to solve some of the greatest challenges on and off the planet,” said McDonald.

“By providing streamlined access to Microsoft technology, expertise and mentors through Microsoft for Space Start-ups Australia we hope to accelerate both OPO’s and its clients’ success.”

OPO streamlines and analyses satellite data from multiple sources, ingests that into its Microsoft Azure-based AI-infused platform, where unique algorithms interpret the data and serve insights to users in a digestible form.

“Access to satellite-sourced data regarding the environment allows real-time digital twins of cities or urban developments to be built and then used to create a healthier ecosystem by connecting the built environment with nature,” added Founder of Office of Planetary Observations, Thomas Gooch.

“As a Microsoft for Space Start-up, we will have access to a space-enabled computer and communications capability, as well as the opportunity to engage with Microsoft specialists who will play an important role in helping us to grow our business in Australia and globally.”

Making Earth Observation Efficient

Spiral Blue team members, Henry Zhong, Taofiq Huq, James Buttenshaw & Gavan Huang with Enrico Palermo, Head of Australian Space Agency. Credit: Spiral Blue/Microsoft.

Sydney-based Spiral Blue, which has developed a prototype computer that allows Earth Observation images to be processed on-board the satellite before transmission back to ground-based stations,  has also been announced as the second company working with Microsoft for Space Start-ups.

Working with the Microsoft team, Spiral Blue will also have access to a wide range of Azure technologies and AI-infused services, to help achieve its ambitious objectives.

“We are essentially building a cloud-like infrastructure in space – it makes sense to partner with the largest cloud computing companies on the planet to see how we can learn from each other to build out this architecture and then hopefully to access some of Microsoft’s customers and bring them into our pipeline as well,” said Taofiq Huq, Founder and CEO of Spiral Blue.

“Satellite images offer enormous insights and opportunity to a broad range of industries – but only if they can be accessed and analysed accurately and rapidly. We are developing that capability.”

“If we are able to process this data on the edge almost straight into the format that’s actually needed for decision-makers, then that obviously makes it a lot easier. And because the processed data is much smaller in size than the raw data, we can actually overcome capacity constraints. We can send more information through than was possible with just raw data,” says Huq.

Recently, Spiral Blue launched their Space Edge computer prototypes aboard the Polish SatRevolution satellites, with these computers currently processing images during this technology demonstration trial.

The company also recently received one of the first Moon to Mars Initiative Supply Chain Program grants for \$416,000 in early 2021 to further develop its software, ensuring it would achieve space-readiness prior to its launch in July.